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The Beginner’s Guide To Running
The Beginner’s Guide To Running

Starting out as a runner can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to exercise. Research suggests injury rates of between 29% and 58% for novice runners so it’s important to know how to become a regular runner and not become one of the walking wounded! It’s also key to keep running as enjoyable as possible, especially in the early stages. If it becomes a grueling chore you’ll quickly find you run less and less. Luckily there are lots of ways to reduce the risk of injury and get the most out of being a new runner.

Be ready to run

Running can be hard on the body, especially the knees, ankles and feet. If you’re already dealing with an injury it’s wise to deal with that prior to starting. See your GP, physio or health professional, and purchase proper footwear to make sure you’re pain free and ready before hitting the roads.

Research has suggested that lack of previous participation in sport places you at a higher risk of developing a running injury. There is some evidence that doing ‘preconditioning’ exercises prior to taking up sport may reduce injury (although there is no evidence with novice runners as it hasn’t been widely studied). If you are new to sport, particularly sports that involve running, then a preconditioning program may help you. If I were to suggest 3 exercises they would be single leg balance, single knee dip and ‘100 up’. These will work balance and control and introduce you to impact. Just do as much of each as you can manage, around twice a week for a few weeks prior to starting running.

You could also start some brisk walking or treadmill running for a few minutes in the weeks before you start running.

Get the right kit

Light, breathable running clothes will help keep the sweat away from your body and keep you comfortable when you run. Many start running in cotton t-shirts but once you sweat they stick to your body and can quickly get uncomfortable. You needn’t go for lycra or compression garments but many sports shops and running shops sell fairly inexpensive options. If you’re a football fan and have a football top then these are a good option as they are often made of material that wicks sweat away and dries quickly.

Get the right shoes

Your old school trainers from 1984 are not the best running shoes! You’d be surprised how many new runners wear old trainers with very little support simply because they had them in cupboard somewhere! Many running shops will analyse your gait on a treadmill for free and make suggestions on appropriate shoes. Some even give you 30 days to run in them, with the option to exchange if the shoe isn’t right. It’s often sensible to start with a well cushioned supportive shoe than the more ‘minimalist’ approach but comfort is key!

Warm up before running and cool down after

There is some debate over whether warm up and cool down prevent injuries. In fact the research has yet to show any factors that prevent injuries in novice runners and there are only a handful of studies on it. What I’ve found is that if your body is prepared to run by a warm up beforehand then it is a more comfortable run, and if you do an appropriate cool down it is more comfortable afterwards. Warming up for exercise should be dynamic not just performing static stretches

For your cool down walking for a few minutes can be helpful to allow your heart rate to gradually settle. The more traditional “Static Stretches” are useful here – by this I mean holding a stretch for around 30 seconds. Focus more on areas that feel tight, this commonly includes quads, hamstrings and calf muscles.

Find your pace

You might be surprised to read that I haven’t always liked running. In fact, in the past it was a chore, something I felt I had to do to keep a beer belly at bay! What changed was when I found my cruising pace. I hadn’t realised it but I’d always ran too fast and each run was an exhausting battle trying to catch my breath. When I started to slow down I found I could run further and enjoy the views rather than just concentrating on keeping going. Changing my speed transformed running for me and it became something I love. As a guide when starting out, pick a pace that you could manage to chat at, it may feel like a plod but as you get fitter you can pick it up a little. By running slower you’ll also reduce the chance of injury.

Build up slowly

This applies to everything! Distance, speed, hills – everything. Anything you add needs to be done gradually. Many runners talk of the “10% rule” this means increasing your weekly mileage by 10% at most. Its a useful guideline to prevent doing too much, too soon. To give you an idea of how crucial this is, it’s estimated that as much as 80% of running injuries are from overuse – doing too much – a gradual build up should significantly reduce your risk of injury.

Embrace variety

Running the same routes on the same surfaces can quickly get a little boring. Add some variety to your routes and consider running on a trail or heading out of town into the countryside. Running on different surfaces also helps to reduce the likehood of injury through the repetitive nature of always running on road or pavement. When you’re used to road running it can be a real treat to get out and see some stunning views, surely this is better than dodging traffic?

Listen to your body

Aches and pains after starting running are common but they should settle quickly. If you are getting persistent pain or swelling then act quickly and get it checked out. Don’t wait until something becomes really severe before seeking advice. In many cases a few days rest from running will settle symptoms, most common running injuries are covered here on RunningPhysio. If you are carrying a niggle and are unsure whether to run or not we have guidance to help you decide.

You might hear the phrase “cross training” from time to time in relation to running. This means using another exercise, usually with less impact than running, to maintain fitness – swimming and cycling are popular choices. If you’re feeling the strain from running try cross training for a week or two to stay fit while allowing the body to recover.

Plan and be sensible

Many new runners often start as ‘weekend warriors’ – they work all week and squeeze as much exercise in as possible at the weekend. This isn’t ideal as you risk doing too much in a short space of time and getting injured. If possible have a plan for your exercise; making it part of your weekly routine means you’re more likely to stick with it and you’ll get better results from your training. Space out your runs with rest days in between and remember other exercise has an impact too. If you work out in the gym and fatigue your legs then try and run the next day it might be a real struggle. Be sensible and just give it some thought, that’s all that’s needed really, many people approach it without even considering how exercise may affect their body.

Stick it out through the tough patches

Every runner will hit a patch in their running when it feels incredibly tough. Progress seems to slow and it becomes harder to motivate yourself to keep going. When you hit this stick it out! Maybe vary your running a little, try something new – swap in some cross training or download an inspirational sound track to listen to! If you keep going and make running a regular part of your life it can become an incredibly rewarding passion.

Are you running to manage your weight?

Many people run to manage their weight. This is a great benefit of running but it’s also worth remembering that if you are overweight you may have an increased risk of injury. Research has suggested that ‘adiposity’ is connected with tendon injury (i.e. if you carry more weight you may have higher risk of developing tendon problems). Some ‘preconditioning’ work, as detailed above, may be helpful. When you start running you may find it helps to do a run or two a week and add in non-impact exercise like cycling or swimming to help reduce your weight. Also remember how much diet plays a part. It’s estimated that for every kg you weigh you burn off 1 calorie per kilometer you run. So someone weighing 80kg will burn around 80 calories per km. A chocolate bar contains around 200 calories so they’d need to run for 2.5km to burn it off! Obviously this is a little simplistic but it gives you an idea of the impact diet has.

Last but not least…

Join the running community

I’m continually amazed by how supportive and friendly the running community can be. From local running shops and runners who wave as they whizz by to online blogs and Twitter – runners are a nice bunch! You needn’t be a ‘lone runner’ slugging away on your own. Many running shops have free running groups for a variety of different levels. You may want to join a running club or try ‘hashing’ which mixes running with socialising and drinking beer – sometimes out of your own shoe! I must point out that hashing isn’t just about that, it involves running in a big group of varied abilities and following a number of trails, some lead nowhere and force you to turn back. The end result is you all tend to arrive at the end at about the same time. Townsville Road Runners is a local organization that you may be interested in joining, you can find more information here

There is a lot of support online. There are a host of excellent blogs – informative, funny and inspiring. Twitter is also full of nice runners who have kindly shared their running advice with us. If you have a question or need support just ask! People are always happy to help out fellow runners.

Good luck, see you on the road….!

 

Written By

Daina Clark, Consultant Podiatrist

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